The Washington Post

Longest-serving Rep. John Dingell to retire

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) will retire at the end of his current term, capping a historic career as the longest-serving member of Congress in history.

In prepared remarks for his annual "State of the District" speech distributed by his office Monday afternoon, Dingell described his decision as personal and rooted in the standards he had set for himself as a lawmaker.

"Around this time every two years, my wife Deborah and I confer on the question of whether I will seek reelection. My standards are high for this job. I put myself to the test and have always known that when the time came that I felt I could not live up to my own personal standard for a Member of Congress, it would be time to step aside for someone else to represent this district. That time has come," Dingell was set to say, according to the prepared remarks.

Dingell first announced his decision to Michigan newspapers. "I’m not going to be carried out feet first," Dingell told the Detroit News. "I don’t want people to say I stayed too long."

Dingell, 87, has served in the House for nearly 60 years. He became the longest-serving member of Congress last summer. He said his health was good enough for him to make another run, but he decried the hostile tone that has come to define business on Capitol Hill these days.

Dingell told the Detroit News he finds "serving in the House to be obnoxious" and that "it's become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets." In his prepared "State of the District" remarks, Dingell said he was hopeful the "fever" that has come over Congress will break.

First elected in 1955 to succeed his father, Dingell has achieved legendary status in the House, where he has left a mark on historic pieces of legislation ranging from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, to name a few.

Even as he built a career that brought him veneration on Capitol Hill, Dingell butted heads with some in his own party. Following redistricting, Dingell survived a primary against a fellow Democratic member in 2002 -- one who had the backing of now-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), no less. In 2008, another Pelosi ally, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), ousted Dingell as chairman of the highly influential House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell's district is expected to remain in Democratic hands: President Obama won 66 percent of the vote there in 2012. Dingell's wife, Debbie Dingell, is a possible candidate to succeed her husband in the Ann Arbor-based district. She is an experienced political hand who flirted with a Senate bid last year before declining to run, clearing the way for Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) to pursue the Senate with his party squarely behind him.

"She’s been my guide, my counsel, my friend and my closest adviser," Dingell told the Detroit News.

Dingell told the Washington Post today that he wasn't sure if his wife would run for his seat. “You’ll have to talk to the lovely Deborah," he said. "She is the one who is going to make that decision. She has not told me what she’s planning on doing."

Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 8, 1926, Dingell was raised in Detroit and Washington. He joined the Army at age 18 during World War II and rose to the rank of second lieutenant before earning a law degree from Georgetown University.

Dingell joins 22 other House members who are seeking and not seeking the office of senator or governor.

Members of both parties showered Dingell with praise Monday upon learning of his retirement.

"Today we honor the service and legacy of Michigan's greatest Congressman," tweeted Peters. "His accomplishments will never be forgotten."

Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) tweeted: "His leadership and skills will be missed in E & C."

Added Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a tea party-aligned Republican: "Despite our differences, Congressman Dingell has always been kind and gracious -- and I will miss our elevator rides. Congrats on retirement."

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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